“Rusticated mayonnaise”: Thomas Jefferson’s Octagonal Retirement Home

By Laura A. Macaluso, Ph.D. [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

In this post, I will attempt to transform my written notes from a SCAD lecture I attended years ago into a coherent blog entry.  For those who want to know what I meant by “rusticated mayonnaise”, I honestly don’t remember, and my notes do not give more information.  Despite losing its original context, I still want it remembered.  I also forgot the lecturer’s name, so apologies for the loss of important details.

Before going into the gist of my notes, I really enjoyed the lecture.  The speaker engaged the audience really well with his speech and slide show.

I learned a lot of interesting facts revolving around Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest retreat.  For starters, he received this property from his wife’s father.  However, to fully comprehend Jefferson’s goal of creating an ideal home, you had to know the Classical era, for the original concept of the retreat came from the Romans.  Relaying a funny anecdote about the freedom of Roman retreats, the lecturer said that the ancient historian “Pliny loved to streak in his villa.”  He also explained that this place of leisure represented to Jefferson a “blend of his favorite ideas.”  These preferences came from the “Greek Revival” style, Andrea Palladio, and Roland Chambray.  At this point, we learned the history of Palladio’s life and the architect’s influences, such as Sebastiano Serlio.  The lecturer then connected Jefferson with “The Five Point Palladio Plan”, the “Tuscan Order”, Vincenzo Scamozzi, and how the “Octagon a common motif in his life.”  Sorry about the grammatically suspect quote, but that’s what I wrote in my notes.  To further solidify Jefferson’s love of Palladio, the man owned every book edition authored by the architect.  Continuing with the theme of European influence, Jefferson spent five years in Paris and learned gardening along the way.  Coming home, the lecturer said he bought “80 crates of decorative arts.”  During the construction, Jefferson always kept in contact with the builders of his home.

Even after Jefferson’s death in 1828, the home’s history continued on.  After surviving fires and labels that changed its original function, people started restoring the house in 1983.  After those bits of information, the speaker went through various parts of the house with its stew pots, walnut sash decorations, Windsor chairs, and explained the meanings behind them.   For example, he showed photographs of an ox skull ornament that symbolized sacrifice and Apollo.  To further showcase Jefferson’s intellectual side, the speaker claimed that the man “said to Adams this was his amusement room” when discussing the parlor with its large amounts of glass and books.
Lastly, we learned about John Hemmings, a worker celebrated for his expertise in Classical entablatures.

By the way, I learned the word “Joist”.

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